Weekly Message from Rabbi Panitz


What does this:


Have to do with this:


And with this:
The Hollies, “He Ain’t Heavy; He’s my brother”

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy he's my brother

He's my brother
He ain't heavy, he's my brother


The surprising answer is found in—of all places—the Jerusalem Talmud!

The Talmud offers a counterintuitive answer to the question, why did Moses break the tablets of the law? The conventional reading of that passage is that Moses was performing an act explicable within the symbol system of his day. The Israelites had broken the covenant. Moses demonstrated their perfidy by breaking the tablets on which the covenant was inscribed. (This, and not the oft-cited explanation that Moses was angry, is in fact the simple reading of the Biblical passage. Yes, Moses was righteously indignant, but he was not out of control.)

The assumption underneath the answer is that Moses deliberately cast down the tablets. So firm is that default assumption that it can serve as the ground for the comic scene in Mel Brooks’ History of the World spoof, where Moses accidentally drops one of the (originally three) tablets. At first, there would have been 15 commandments, but… oops!.... now there are 10.

Who knew? Brooks is (consciously or not) alluding to the legend transmitted in the Jerusalem Talmud:

The tablets, two large sapphire stones, weighed too much to be possibly carried by a single human being; instead, the divinely etched letters engraved within them miraculously lightened them, enabling Moses to carry the tablets. When the letters “saw” the golden calf which the Jewish people had made, they were revolted and “flew” out of the tablets, back to their divine source—leaving Moses with a burden he could not bear, and which he therefore dropped

Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (retold in the Chabad.org column on the weekly portion Key Tissa)

What is the point of this legend? It is the point of the Hollies’ song. It’s not too heavy a task to carry a brother, because you love him. When you do a favour for someone you love, and that person thanks you, your natural response is, “it was no trouble at all.” Likewise, it’s not too heavy a task to live by the laws of God, when we are animated by love.

This is the point that critics of Judaism, including in-house critics such as St. Paul, do not appreciate. As Solomon Schechter expressed it, the observant Jew feels joy in performing the law. This is the beautiful value concept, simchah shel mitzvah.

When the Israelites broke the law, then and only then did the demands of the law become heavy. Even a Moses couldn’t hold up the weight of the inert tablets, no longer made supportable by the laws inscribed therein. Indeed, the 613 commandments are always going to seem onerous, when we do not have any sense of love grounding them.

God doesn’t start those Ten Utterances with philosophy, with a statement of having created heaven and earth. God begins them with a statement of relationship. I took you out of slavery.

Why keep kosher? Why desist from work on the Shabbat? Why stand out in matters of life practice from the majority? It’s like answering the question, why go to the trouble to find just the right card and gift for a loved one celebrating a birthday: “What I did for love…”

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Michael Panitz